Cellulitis: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

Overview

Cellulitis is a skin infection by bacteria. The types of bacteria which can cause it are various, but the most common ones are Streptococcus pyogenes (strep) or Staphylococcus aureus (staph). It often occurs in skin injuries, such as cut, sore, wound, etc. When bacteria that trigger inflammation enter into a break of skin, the soft tissue underneath can be affected. Cellulitis can occur in any part of the body, but generally in legs and feet.

Causes

The bacteria which cause cellulitis are mainly Streptococcus pyogenes (strep) or Staphylococcus aureus (staph).
Erysipelas caused by strep is more common in young children, spreading hot, bright red circumscribed area on the skin with a sharp, raised border. “Flesh-eating bacteria” which are actually a strain of strep bacteria can invade into the deep tissue under the skin and cause serious infection.
Methicillin-resistant strains (MRSA) belonging to staph is difficult to treat because of its resistance to many antibiotics. It is common and dangerous.

Other types of bacteria can also cause cellulitis. For example, pasteurella multocida bacteria often enter into the skin due to insect bite or animal bite. Hemophilus influenzae is another bacteria that can cause cellulitis.

Risk Factors

A number of factors can make bacteria into the skin and lead to cellulitis.

  • Any breaks in the skin, such as cut, sore, wound, puncture, insect bite, ulcer, etc.
  • Other circumstances without breaks in the skin, such as chronic leg swelling (edema), athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) or impetigo, eczema, psoriasis or skin damage caused by radiation therapy.
  • Diseases or conditions that suppress the immune system or reduce the blood flow and circulation of the lymphatic fluid, such as HIV/AIDS, venous insufficiency, obesity or pregnancy.

Symptoms

The following relevant symptoms may indicate the presence of cellulitis. Such signs should be a concern.

  • Redness
  • Fever
  • Swelling
  • Warmth
  • Pain or tenderness
  • An abscess with pus

Severe infection can cause:

  • High fever
  • Enlarging of redness area
  • Increased pain
  • Shaking
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle aches

It is significant for you to realize about the symptoms, and then you have to seek care right away.

Complications

Because it is possible for cellulitis to spread to bloodstream throughout the body, sepsis as a complication may occur. It is rare of necrotizing fasciitis as another complication to occur, which is due to a deep layer infection, but once it develops, it is an emergency.

Prevention

It is preventable by avoiding skin surface wounds. However, once the skin breaks, you should be gentle to wash the wounds daily with soap and water. An over-the-counter cream can be applied to protect the wounds. If necessary, you need to cover the wound with bandage and watch for signs of infection when you change the bandage everyday.

It is may not preventable when cellulitis is caused by other diseases or collapse of immune system.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis is to identify the conditions of cellulitis. Doctors normally look at the skin affected firstly and can usually diagnose it according to your recent medical history or symptoms. In some cases, physical examinations are needed, including a blood test which can judge whether the infection has spread to your blood, and an X-ray which is used to test if the bone is infected.

Treatment

Due to the severity of cellulitis, treatments include medications and in rare cases, surgery.

As for mild cellulitis, antibiotics are used to kill bacteria and treat infections. The infection will improve after you take antibiotics, but you should contact your doctor once redness and swelling or other symptoms don’t reduce. Doctors may also prescribe pain relievers. When you are in home, it is better for you to elevate the infected area and rest to help reduce swelling.

As for severe cellulitis, you may need a surgery. Your doctor will open up the wound and drain out an abscess or pus. If an abscess and pus accumulate in soft tissue under the skin, the soft tissue can become dead tissue which needs to be cut away.

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.